10 Best Hikes in Alaska

10 Best Hikes in Alaska

Posted by Paul Miller on Jan 20th 2018

When it comes to America’s largest state, twice the size of Texas, with more than 50% of its total land designated as wilderness areas, it should be no surprise that some of the best and most scenic hikes in the world are located in Alaska. Since the sheer size of Alaska and the abundance of trails makes it difficult to choose just 10, this list will focus on hikes that exemplify the beauty and grandeur of the state while still being accessible for hikers of all levels. So, without further ado, lets hit the trails in our northernmost state.

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1) Exit Glacier and Harding Ice Field Trail – Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward

There are not many places in the world where you can take a short hike and be standing in front of a massive glacier, but Alaska is one of them. Located outside the port town of Seward, the Exit Glacier Trail is a short walk along one of the best maintained trails in the entire state. There are information signs along the trail telling you about the glacier’s history and markers showing how much it has retreated over the past 100 years. The trail finishes at the foot of the glacier, allowing you to touch the ice and experience the majesty of the glacier up close.

For a longer hike, the Harding Ice Field Trail is not to be missed. At 4 miles each way, this steep trail climbs approximately 4,000 feet and takes you to the top of Exit Glacier, giving you unobstructed views of the Harding Ice Field, a vast expanse of white and blue ice that seems to go on forever. The trail is covered in snow for much of the year but is clear during the late summer. Also, be on the lookout for brown and black bears who call this area home.

2) Lost Lake Trail – Chugach National Forest, Seward

Located just up the road from Exit Glacier, the Lost Lake Trail is one of the beautiful hikes in the area and offers unbeatable views of alpine meadows and snow-capped mountains. It is a 7-mile hike each way and there are campgrounds once you reach Lost Lake. The stars at night are like nothing you’ve ever seen and, if you’re lucky, the northern lights are visible during certain times of the year. This is a great one or two-day hike because the trail is well marked and the terrain quite mild. In addition, the elevation gain is spread out nicely over the 7 miles, so step inclines aren’t an issue. This is also a popular trail for mountain biking and dogs are welcome.

3) Chilkoot Pass Trail – Skagway, Alaska to Lake Bennett, Canada

This hike is a multi-day trek that takes you along the historic route gold seekers took more than a hundred years ago during the Yukon Gold Rush. Remnants of old mining equipment and tent-cities are still visible along the trail. Signs are scattered along the trail which give hikers the history of the area and what life was like for the early pioneers who made the journey.

Usually taking at least 3 days to finish, this 33-mile, one-way hike starts off in a coastal rainforest before climbing more than 3,500 feet along the “Golden Staircase” over the Chilkoot pass, finishing in a boreal forest at Lake Bennett in Canada. There are 9 campsites along the way to choose from and permits are required, with only 50 hikers a day allowed to start the trip. However, instead of hiking back the way you came, take the White Pass Railroad from Lake Bennett back to Skagway and enjoy the comfort of vintage railway cars as you pass by waterfalls and go through the same mountain tunnels prospectors took in 1898.

4) Portage Pass Trail – Whittier

A more family-friendly trail that doesn’t require a permit or overnight camping, Portage Pass is located about an hour and a half outside of Anchorage. At just 2 miles each way, this is a great half-day hike, with a moderate elevation gain, that ends at spectacular Portage Lake and views of Portage Glacier, occasionally dropping chunks of ice into the lake, nestled inside a valley. This pass is on a migratory route for some of the native birds of Alaska, so bring binoculars if you want to get a closer look.

5) Crow Pass Trail – Chugach State Park, Girdwood

This trail is less than hour by car outside of Anchorage and has something for every kind of hiker. As a day trip, hike 4-miles past old mine ruins, keeping your eyes open for marmots and mountain goats. After a few miles of mild incline, you will arrive at Crystal Lake and great views of the small but still impressive Raven Glacier. If you are hiking for the day, stop and have a picnic while enjoying spectacular views of the glacier and surrounding Chugach Mountains before heading back down to the trailhead.

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For a longer hike, the entire trail is 21 miles and ends at the Eagle River Nature Center. Further along in the hike, bears and moose are often spotted in the valleys. However, be sure to have a car or shuttle arranged to take you back into town unless you want to hike another 21 miles back over the pass.

6) Flattop Mountain – Anchorage

Just a few miles outside of downtown Anchorage, this is a great trail for views of the city, Denali (Mt. McKinley), and even the Aleutian Islands on a clear day. Just 1.5 miles to the summit, albeit along a pretty steep path, this trail is great for a family looking to enjoy nature on a half-day hike. For longer hikes leaving from the same parking lot, a 5-mile each way hike to Williwaw Lakes or 5.5 miles to Wolverine Peak are also great. If you are visiting Anchorage or on a cruise and don’t have a car, there is a shuttle service that runs from downtown to the mountain and back.

7) Eielson Ridge Trail – Denali National Park, Anchorage

To get the best views of the highest mountain in America, head into Denali National Park several hours outside of Anchorage. While there aren’t too many marked trails, the area is ripe for exploration. The only road in the park is aptly named “Park Road” and only the first 15 miles of it are open to private vehicles. However, you can book a spot on a tour bus or van and ride it another 50 miles to the Eielson Visitor Center.

The visitors center is only 30 miles from the mountain and offers some of the best viewing opportunities. The Ridge Trail is located just behind the center and is a steep, one-mile hike to the top of the ridge. While the trail ends there, consider taking some extra time to continue along the ridge and across the open tundra for some extra off-trail hiking. In addition to spectacular views of Denali, Dall sheep, bears, and moose are often spotted in the area. To get back down to your car, a shuttle bus from the visitors center will take you back to the parking lot at mile 15 of the Park Road.

8) Deer Mountain Trail – Ketchikan

If your cruise ship makes a stop in Ketchikan and you feel the need to burn off some calories after too many all-you-can-eat buffets, the Deer Mountain Trail is your go-to hike. The trailhead is located about a mile and half away from the cruise ship terminals and the hike is only 2.5 miles from the base to the summit. However, don’t let the short distance fool you. The trail is extremely steep, gaining 3,000 feet of altitude in just a couple miles over rocky terrain and sharp switchbacks. If you make it the whole way, the scenery from the top is outstanding. The surrounding islands, alpine lakes, and the city are all within view.

If you don’t want something so strenuous, walking tours of the town are a great way to get some exercise and experience some of the local culture. Ketchikan is known for its Native American totem poles and taking a stroll through Totem Bight State Historical Park or Saxman Native Village is a great way to learn more about the culture and history of the area.

9) Indian River Trail – Sitka

With the trailhead located just outside downtown Sitka, this trail is great for all levels of hikers and gives you a little bit of everything that makes Alaska wonderful. As you begin your gradual climb along the 4.5-mile, one-way trail, you are engulfed in the coastal rainforest, walking beside spawning salmon in the river during the summer. The end of the trail is punctuated by a 70-foot high waterfall and, if you are brave enough, several areas conducive for swimming. This is a great half to full day hike depending on how fast you go and is often mentioned as one of the best hikes in Sitka.

10) Resurrection Pass – Chugach State Park, Hope/Cooper Landing

The last hike on our list is another long one, measuring in at a total of 38 miles. Located on the Kenai Peninsula, this hike takes you through the Chugach Mountains, mostly staying within the beautiful alpine valleys, so steep elevation changes are not a worry on this trail. Most people start in the town of Cooper Landing in the north and hike the trail south to the small coastal town of Hope.

Even though the trail is well maintained and the elevation changes gradual, this trail is somewhat difficult due to its length. Along the trail, there are 8 public cabins and 19 different campsites to choose from, so you can set your own pace and take a couple days, or as long as a week if you’d like, to do the whole thing. In addition, the trail is open for mountain biking and, in the winter, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing are popular along the trail.

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